New year, new name, new CEO for synthetic biology co. Intrexon

Sabzevari came to Precigen shortly after Geno Germano, Intrexon’s previous president and CEO-in-waiting, jumped ship to stay in the biotech business.(Pixabay)

Two years ago, Intrexon packed off its human health projects into a new subsidiary called Precigen because they “may be overshadowed by the breadth and complexity” of its other synthetic biology projects. Now, the company is bringing those assets back into the fold as it changes its focus, sheds its non-healthcare work and names a new CEO. 

The new company will take Precigen's name, as well as its leader, Helen Sabzevari, Ph.D. She joined the subsidiary in June 2017 as head of R&D before her promotion to president five months later. 

“Aside from being the finest drug developer I have met, Helen demonstrated to all of us her tremendous managerial and leadership skills,” said outgoing CEO Randal “RJ” Kirk, in a statement on Thursday. “While I intend on staying close in my role as Executive Chairman, my confidence in Helen is enormous, and I believe that her leadership of the company will reward all of us who have contributed to and believed in Intrexon over the years." 

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RELATED: Change in direction at Intrexon has Germano heading for the exit

Sabzevari came to Precigen shortly after Intrexon’s previous president and CEO-in-waiting jumped ship to stay in the biotech business. Geno Germano, who led Pfizer’s global innovative pharma business, came on board in 2016 with plans to eventually take over from Kirk. Then, Intrexon hived off its healthcare assets, leaving Germano with a stable of projects in areas such as food, agriculture and energy. 

"I have come to realize that my preference is to work within the industry where I spent most of my life," Germano said at the time. "I therefore am leaving the company to continue my career in the pharma/biopharma industry." 

Intrexon, now Precigen, is refocusing on health because that's where the capital is, Kirk, who has helmed the company since 2009, told FierceBiotech. 

“It was always envisioned—until now—as a multi-industry player in synthetic biology. While we believe the technology certainly enable an increasing number of products in industries outside of health, frankly, I overlooked something pretty important in retrospect,” he said. 

RELATED: Former Pfizer business head Germano lands president’s job at Intrexon

That something was that capital follows “patterns that become recognizable over time.”

“I used to be somewhat derisive about adherence to one standard industrial code, but the reality is that 95% or so of the organized institutional capital available to invest in biotechnology—either by charter, mandate or vocational training—is limited to healthcare,” Kirk said. 

The company has reached agreements to sell off all of its non-health projects except two of its most mature businesses: methane bioconversion company MBP Titan, and a bovine genetics unit, Trans Ova Genetics. It will eventually offload those as well but is not in a “huge hurry” to do so, Kirk said.  

It will rake in $65.2 million from the sale of its smaller businesses, with $53 million coming from Third Security, a venture firm led by Kirk. Third Security will also pick up $35 million in Intrexon stock.  

“For us, 2020 will mean to have a very, very sharp focus on the programs and portfolio we have created over the past two years,” Sabzevari told FierceBiotech. “That means moving some of this portfolio that’s already in the clinic to further stages in clinical trials, as well as moving overs toward the clinic.” 

The company is advancing programs in immuno-oncology, infectious diseases and autoimmune diseases. Sabzevari is particularly excited about what the company calls its UltraCAR-T programs, which use non-viral gene delivery and don’t require outside manufacturing. 

“It is done overnight in the hospital and the next day, the patient receives their own CAR-T,” she said.

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